Rick Santorum and the Jewish Vote

Republican's Trashing of Church-State Divide Kills GOP Brand

Makes Jews Wanna Holler: Rick Santorum is courting evangelical Christian voters by saying he favors a much looser interpretation of the church-state divide. That stance is likely to repel Jewish voters from him, and the Republican Party.
getty images
Makes Jews Wanna Holler: Rick Santorum is courting evangelical Christian voters by saying he favors a much looser interpretation of the church-state divide. That stance is likely to repel Jewish voters from him, and the Republican Party.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published March 01, 2012, issue of March 09, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Politicians have been trying to loosen that bond ever since, usually without success. Abraham Lincoln tried in 1860, asking Chicago lawyer Abe Jonas to spearhead an effort. It failed. Ulysses S. Grant tried recruiting banker Joseph Seligman as his secretary of Treasury, but was turned down. With rare exceptions, the combination of Jefferson’s secularism, Andrew Jackson’s economic populism and Woodrow Wilson’s internationalism have kept Jews’ loyalty firm.

GOP hopes have risen in recent decades, spurred by rising Jewish affluence and self-assurance. Dwight Eisenhower drew 40% of Jewish voters in 1956; Ronald Reagan won nearly that in 1980. Since then, though, Republicans have been trending relentlessly downward.

The current slide may have begun on September 12, 1991. That day, then-president George H.W. Bush unwittingly marked the 31st anniversary of Kennedy’s historic speech by publicly attacking a gathering of Jewish citizen-lobbyists as “some powerful political forces.” The slur outraged Jews nationwide, unleashing a flood of donations that helped defeat the Republican candidate in a special senatorial election nine weeks later in — where else? — Pennsylvania. The Republican, embarrassingly, was Bush’s own attorney general, popular ex-governor Dick Thornburgh. The winner was Harris Wofford. He was defeated three years later by Rick Santorum.

Obama’s troubles have lately reignited GOP hopes. In February, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a survey showing that Jewish identification with Republicans had risen from 20% in 2008 to 29% now. But the survey included a mere 334 Jewish respondents, giving it a high margin of error. Moreover, it was conducted last fall, before Santorum’s surge. Even if he ends up losing, he’s probably ruined the Republican brand among Jews for another generation.

Will it ever change? If it does, it will start in Pennsylvania, still ground zero for Jewish partisan fighting. Consider the Bush debacle of 1992, for example. That was the beginning of a Jew-vs.-Jew seesaw battle, then a rarity, in the heavily Jewish 13th congressional district outside Philadelphia, where Democrat Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky narrowly defeated Republican Jon Fox, then promptly lost to him in 1994. Jew-vs.-Jew seesaws are more common now, but none tops the Minnesota senatorial seat held successively since 1978 by Republican Rudy Boschwitz, Democrat Paul Wellstone, Republican Norm Coleman and now Democrat Al Franken, with nary a gentile in the mix.

In the end, of course, the struggle for the Jewish vote is really a battle for the Jewish soul. To understand it, look no further than the long-running Pennsylvania seesaw between onetime Democratic Philadelphia district attorney Arlen Specter, long-serving Republican senator Arlen Specter and now-defeated Democratic senator Arlen Specter. His path recalls nothing so much as Yogi Berra’s comment upon learning in 1956 that a Jew, the great Bobby Briscoe, had been elected Lord Mayor of Dublin: “Only in America.”

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.